Our practitioner research made a difference to students’ behaviour and achievements

Sarah Crowson

Sarah Crowson @sarahjfc is a lecturer in Critical Studies at the Hereford College of Arts. She carried out the Action Research with Simon Denison, Head of Critical Studies. To find out more about their research, visit their project website: https://transforminglevel5learning.wordpress.com or email Sarah at s.crowson@hca.ac.uk.

Last month, I was thrilled to lead a workshop presenting practitioner led action research at the Education and Training Foundation’s annual research conference. Two weeks previously, I watched a group of three Level Five learners present at our HCA dissertation conference. They talked about their practice; how they had discussed ideas outside of class, used social media to share information and resources, and supported each other through a demanding academic year. They, too, were presenting the impact of the action research project.

Our action research identified ‘grey spaces’ – spaces where learners felt they learned least during classes – and transformed these into non-formal learning spaces. Such spaces encouraged students to talk informally to peers and tutors about their ideas and to openly reflect on their learning.

My reflections show a three-way impact. As a participant I felt confident, supported and validated in my role as researcher-practitioner. This gave me confidence to take risks in my pedagogical practice. Research data shows an impact on individual learner achievement. Students working at lower-grade boundaries achieved more pass grades in test groups than similar students from control groups.

Finally, I believe there is evidence of a wider social impact within our student community. Students enjoyed participating in research and this became known around the college. Following the research project, our department introduced dissertation ‘tea parties’: non-formal spaces where students could discuss their ideas with peers and tutors.

This year, emCETT gave me the confidence and skills to engage in action research. The opportunity to present a workshop at the conference gave me the chance to engage in critical discussion in a context outside my immediate peer group and to develop as a critical, reflective learner. Likewise, I hope our students will continue to work together beyond graduation, discuss challenging ideas and continue their development as critical learners and practitioners.

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